Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Part One and Two
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two may not be performed in whole or in part and no use may be made of it whatsoever except under express licence from the rights holders of the work, J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions Limited.
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A CONVERSATION ABOUT READING SCRIPTS
The first play I ever read was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was at primary school and very excited. I can’t remember clearly, but think I mainly went through it looking for my lines. Yes, I was an obnoxious little brat and yes, I was going to play Joseph. The next play I read was The Silver Sword, a theatre adaptation of the Ian Serraillier classic. I wasn’t going to play the lead in that – I think I played ‘third boy’ or something. I wanted to play Edek Balicki. I would have given anything to play Edek, but sadly my acting career was in terminal decline by then. I was nine years old.
The first script I ever read was Oliver! aged nine (even at that young age I was vaguely aware that the exclamation mark meant it was a musical – it’s Oliver. with songs!). I had been cast as the eponymous orphan in the Huddersfield Amateur Operatic Society’s 1981 production. I have no memory of attempting to change my accent, so our production must have been a strange reimagining of Dickens’s original in which Oliver’s mother finds her way to a workhouse in West Yorkshire to give birth. Like you, I read through the script looking for my lines. I remember making a special trip to buy a fluorescent yellow pen so I could highlight Oliver’s lines in my script, just like I’d noticed my fellow cast members do. Obviously, I thought, this was what marked you out as a seasoned performer. It was only later that the Artful Dodger pointed out that I not only had to highlight my lines, but also commit them to memory. And so began my lessons in reading plays.
I wish I’d seen your Oliver. And your highlighted script. I always admired your pristine brown directing notebooks. My scripts are – and always have been – dog-eared, covered in indecipherable notes and smeared with baby puke (okay, the puke is a relatively new addition).
So how do you think scripts should be read? How can they be read? When I was trying to write the stage directions for publication – in those final few weeks of scramble before we opened – I got really worried about all this. I remember in rehearsals we’d delete chunks of the script because the actors were communicating something effortlessly with a look so they didn’t need the lines I’d written. This script was created for a particular group of actors, but others need to inhabit the roles too. The reader needs to visualise the characters, as does the director.
When you’re reading a script for the first time, what are you looking for?
As a director, the first time you read a new script is very precious. It’s the closest you’re ever going to be to an audience watching a production of this script for the first time. Reading a finished script should allow us access to the story, its characters and the themes the playwright is exploring. A script can make us laugh and cry. It can take us through the joy of its story and also make us feel deep despair for the suffering of its characters. A script builds towards a fully realised production and an experience that can be shared with the audience.
As a playwright, how much of this full experience do you imagine when you are writing a script? Do you speak the characters’ lines out loud as you type them?
I do worse than that, I move like them. Which, when you’re working in well-known coffee shops and sandwich retailers, can lead to you attracting some strange looks. I find myself twisting into the character and gesticulating like them. It’s all very embarrassing.
The thing that was perhaps most interesting about the process of writing this particular script is that I have never spent more time with actors – ever. Through the weeks of workshops and then weeks of rehearsals we were all in those rooms together for so long, all of us, from the design team to the sound team to the lights. I don’t think any of us have experienced anything like that – I think it probably works out at eight months or so, all in all. What effect would you say that had on what was created? I’m sure it made it all a lot better, but more than that do you think it somehow changed the tone of what we did?
I love the thought of you sitting in cafés mumbling and contorting yourself into characters from your plays! I think there’s probably an audience for this, Jack. It sounds like a very unique style of performance. We could tour it. I know the actors from Cursed Child and I would book front row seats. No? Well, okay then.
I definitely think that the significant amount of time we all spent together in workshops and rehearsals had a positive effect on what we created. The whole process still seems so vivid, dynamic and clear. From the initial story meetings we had with Jo at the beginning of 2014 through to the audiences who first saw the production in summer 2016, there have been so many actors, creatives, artists, producers, production and technical teams who have contributed to this play. This is the main reason I was so keen to include all their names in the published script. It’s also why the published script can only ever be a gateway to the full experience of watching the production in a theatre.
So, as the writer of this script, what do you hope happens inside the imaginations of people reading the play who haven’t, as yet, been able to see the production?
I think that’s a difficult question to answer. On the day before the play opened, I wrote a tweet which said ‘I’d love people to see it, it’s better seen than read – plays are like sheet music, meant to be sung & we’ve a cast & crew of pure Beyoncé’. So maybe that’s the answer: that they imagine the Beyoncés of the acting world – emotional and empathetic titans – killing every line with their subtlety and grace (because that’s the reality, our cast are extraordinary) – and staging and movement and costume and lighting and video and sound that are all just sublime.
Or maybe I just hope they’re able to read it as I wrote it – with Jo on one shoulder and you, John, on the other – trying my best to express in every single line the emotional truth and honesty that runs through the Harry Potter books. The difficult thing of course is the subtext between the lines, the way that looks can carry emotion, and the impossibility of truly capturing internal monologue in a script. In prose you can write how someone feels, and in the production the cast reflect the internal monologue on their faces. Plus, there’s loads of magic stuff onstage, which I can’t explain because it’ll ruin watching the show and get Jamie Harrison (Illusions and Magic) thrown out of the Magic Circle! Maybe they can act it themselves in their head? Maybe they can be as mad as me and sit in a café and play all the parts? How would you say people should read it?
As you say, in prose you can express the truth of how someone feels through internal monologue and give visual detail through rich description, whereas we have our actors and creative collaborators who